I’m not usually a list person, or if I am, I prefer prose. Today, I’ll make an exception and try to summarize the top things someone new to transportation biking should be aware of.

  1. Learn how to ride safely on the road. My mantra is be visible.
  2. Get a bike that fits, and keep it in working condition. There are lots of factors for a good bike fit, but for commuting and getting around, generally you want a bike that keeps you sitting more upright so you can see and be seen (how fashion-conscious!) on the road. If you hear squeaks of agony (from the bike) or the brakes aren’t snappy, get that taken care of by a shop.
  3. Figure out routes that work for you. You’re going to be taking different roads than if you were walking or driving. While Google Maps has biking directions, I find them to be generally pretty bad because of their slavish devotion to marked bike routes (a nearly meaningless distinction, usually). Find what works for you be trial and error and talk to other bikers.
  4. Decide how you’re going to carry things. Don’t put things on your back if you want to arrive presentable. Don’t put things on your handlebars if you want to survive. Instead, get a rack with panniers or a basket.
  5. Figure out dress that works for you. I know this is particularly an issue for ladies, but you’ll have to prepare by wearing much cooler outfits (when you’re rocking and rolling along) and much warmer outfits (when it’s windy or cold and you’re not generating as much heat).

That about sums it up. Now I can stop blogging, forever. 🙂

In other news, I posted my instructions for the Large Panniers for CETMA rack. Whether you make these bags or a different roll-top type pannier, I hope these instructions are helpful.

Weather (from 3/20)

Temperature: 81

Road condition: Dry

Clothing: Long sleeve T-shirt, jeans, loafers (w/o socks)

Comfort: Awful. As you might imagine, the best way to deal with this temperature is light fabrics and short sleeves. I was in a black T-shirt and jeans. Don’t do that.

If I were commuting to an office at a morning temperature above 70, I would neatly store my button-up shirt, and untuck the undershirt, and take it slowly. Or, if you’re going far enough, plan on changing clothes.

I attended the Hub Bicycle Basic Maintenance/Flat Fix Clinic on Wednesday (as employee training?), and I was really surprised by the format. I guess knowing Emily, I shouldn’t be, but the clinic was rather expansive in what it covered. There was a very thorough demo on changing a flat (I learned some things!), chain lubing, basic maintenance things to look out for, bike cleaning (hint: not this) and a general discussion of bikes and bike components. As one attendee remarked, “I wish I had known this five months ago,” which was a sentiment I can relate to.

I rode my mountain bike into work so I can pack it in the car for my trip to NYC this weekend. I also wore my clipless shoes (I have touring pedals on both my mountain and my commuter/touring bike), which made me feel really fast. It’s great riding a variety of bikes: they all behave so differently, it’s a totally different experience – this one has lower pressure tires, disc brakes, and a slightly more relaxed geometry than my other bikes. I was really tempted to ride down the stairs at City Hall Plaza, but I didn’t want to start my work day with torn up clothes, dirt, and cuts. As an aside, does anyone else feel a little miffed that the city rents out the plaza for months at a time, making it very inconvenient to cross?


Temperature: 41

Road condition: A few puddles, but otherwise dry

Clothing: Light spring jacket, clipless bike shoes.

Comfort: I started off the ride cold: for no particular reason, I rode without gloves, and then also remembered that the bike shoes are super permeable to air. Those things didn’t bother me after a little riding – it also helped my morale to keep leapfrogging my fiancee, who was driving most of the same route as I.

I won’t harp on it any more, but on Friday night I made a matching really big pannier of the same design (Woo! Party!) as my original. It was fast and easy; I also took the back rack off my commuter. I’ll report back after loading up the front with a ton of weight. I also have a page in the works for the design on the pannier. I’ll try not to bore you too much more on this subject, dear reader.

After last week’s snow riding, I let my bikes sit in an enclosed area for three days so they could breed surface rust. I cleaned the commuter yesterday; I’ll need to bring the mountain bike in to get a wipe-down, probably tonight.

Finally, let me apologize for the lack of pictures: after I figured out a system to get photos off my cell phone, my fiancee lent that computer to a friend. I can’t help but think of my pictures in the phone as the pudding that Homer Simpson has trapped in the can forever. (“A Streetcar Named Marge” – look for the songs in that episode!)


Temperature: 29

Road condition: Dry

Clothing: Heavy winter coat, timberland shoes, light Pearl Izumi gloves. I forgot my Nutcase helmet at home, so I had the traditional Bell Venture today: my whole head, but especially my ears, were notably colder.

Comfort: Aside from the ears, perfect! I rode pretty hard without working up a sweat at all.

Whoa, Bikers! Cold and Dry

February 8th, 2012

I’m going to switch up the post order, putting weather and such at the end now. It’s been pretty repetitive, so I’ll put the variety up front.

Despite the misleading forecast for rain yesterday, the accurate forecast for slightly warmer weather seems to have gotten bikers out in droves. My operating theory is that they all stayed home Monday reflecting on the meaning of life (and what the Patriots loss means for them) and on Tuesday resolved to leave a better world for their children (and therefore use up their once-a-year bike ride to work). It was, however, a parade of terribly maintained bikes. My classic favorites were out in droves: rusted and gritted up chains, and deflated tires. Which brings us to my “enjoy biking” hint of the day (a two-fer!):

If your knees (as opposed to thighs or calves) hurt from pedaling, your chain needs maintenance. If the bike is painfully unresponsive to your pedaling, your tires need inflation.

Weather and clothing

The weather this morning was bracing, despite being a mild 24 degrees. My face was cold, but happily warmed up with riding and collar adjustments.

Temperature: 24 degrees

Road: Dry

Clothing: Heavy winter jacket, wool gloves, Timberland shoes, messenger bag

Comfort: My face and legs took a little while to warm up. It was definitely on the edge of needing additional covering in those places.

Warmer and dry; Chains

February 1st, 2012

Today is supposed to be very warm, so I scaled down from the winter coat to a sweater plus rain jacket. I won’t repeat myself on how the fixed gear causes me to run warmer than usual, but today was another case in point of overheating. The temperature wasn’t actually so high – 37 degrees – but it sure felt warm.

Clothing: Light sweater, waterproof windbreaker, waterproof shoes, messenger bag. Light cotton (?) biking gloves.

If you canvas ten bicycle-inclined people and ask them about maintenance, nine of them will talk about the chain (and the other one will be clever). It bears repeating that if you do any of the following things, you need to clean and oil your chain at least once a month, and probably more often.

1. Ride your bike more than twice a week

2. Ride in rain or snow, even once

3. Store your bike outside

4. Ride off road

As regular transportation cyclists, we all see, and then hear, those bikers who are crawling along, straining their muscles to go five miles an hour, the bike shrieking as though in pain, and the chain recently dredged from the hold of the Titanic. We love to blog about them. I really wanted to make pamphlets to hand to bikers inching up the Longfellow Bridge in spring explaining how to do it (if anyone’s interested, I have other informational ideas, although the whole medium of unsolicited advice is a little obnoxious).  I’ll resist the desire to say more, except, clean your chain!

Cool and Dry; Tires

January 31st, 2012

Today was another uneventful winter commute. Dry ground (save the open fire hydrant on Cambridge Street in Beacon Hill), high 30s, nothing special to report. I took the fixed gear today because the forecast was nice. The lack of fenders (see, they’re useful even in fair weather!) made me nervous for my clothing through the aforementioned water on the street.

Clothing: Heavy winter coat, wool gloves, waterproof shoes. No rain pants; messenger bag.

True to form, the fixed gear made me ride harder than usual (I love the way it pushes you up hills!) and the messenger bag constricted me a little. I managed to break a sweat.

I haven’t pumped my tires the entire month. This is a luxury you have in the winter: air escapes much more slowly when the temperature is below 50 degrees. (I’m sure it has something to do with the rubber becoming more porous, but that’s a tire engineer’s concern.) In the summer, if you aren’t pumping the tires once per week, then you feel as though you’re riding on a wet sock.

The reasons to stay on top of tire pressure are for performance (avoiding “wet sock” syndrome) and for “pinch flat” prevention. I also think that tires which are generally puncture resistant (from road debris) also perform better at higher pressure as they can scatter the debris as you ride instead of flopping down on its sharp edges.

No ride today

January 20th, 2012

I didn’t ride in today, as I’m going to NYC for the weekend. That’s too bad, as I won’t get to ride on snow today.

In future posts, I’ll try to break up the monotony of the “Weather” theme by talking about practical things from the day’s ride I wish I had known sooner. Some probably topics are equipment (racks, fenders, bags), maintenance (chain, brakes, storage), and road riding (etiquette, laws, safety, routes).

For today, I’ll mention the most recent maintenance I did on my Crosscheck: tightening the headset. You see, as with any second hand bike purchase, there were plenty of maintenance items that needed to be done. In fact, as my standards for ride quality go up, I find that second hand bikes need an extreme overhaul: new cables, new brake pads, brake tuning, wheel hub cleaning, drive train cleaning, new tires. Like many bike dorks, I try to do the work myself.

In the case of this bike, I wanted to convert it from single speed to geared (I basically bought a really expensive frame at the end of the day), so lots of parts had to go. I also discovered a mysterious wobble when using only the front brakes. It turned out it was a combination of three things: loose front hub axle nuts (i.e. the wheel itself was loose from the frame), worn brake pads, and a loose headset. Immediately after making those changes, the wobble would go away, but gradually return. I would tighten the headset incredibly tight, temporarily solve the problem, and then later have it return.

Fast forward to this weekend. Fed up with eight months of this wobble problem, I brought the bike into Broadway Bicycle School. I described the problem, and the mechanic suspected it was an insufficiently seated star nut: there just wasn’t enough leverage connecting the headset cap to the steerer tube, hence the wobble when braking. As soon as we pulled off the headset cap (I should mention at this point the headset is threadless), not only was the mechanic proven correct (the star nut was seated about 1/4 inch down instead of the 1 1/2 or 2 inches it should have been), but from my latest cranking down on the headset cap, I had actually pulled one end of the star nut out of the steerer tube entirely!

Our first fix, to just punch the star nut to its proper location despite being deformed, didn’t last long. So I was back in the shop last night to bang that star nut all the way out of the way and then insert a new one. This should solve the problem permanently, which is pretty satisfying.